Rachman, rogues and renting

Scandals hit private renting. With an election in the offing, the Labour opposition pledges help for tenants. There are definite parallels between now and the 1960s.

Everyone (especially those who oppose the party’s current modest reform plans) thinks they knows what happened in the wake of Rachmanism but the truth is far more complicated and so are the lessons for the future.

My interest in the period was first caught by a 2012 Radio 4 documentary called The Real Rachman – the Lord of the Slums. I thought I knew about Rachmanism but the programme told a much more nuanced and mysterious story that I blogged about shortly afterwards.

That blog prompted an email from Professor David Nelken, whose 1983 book on the aftermath of Rachmanism has just been reissued. The Limits of the Legal Process is a classic study of the sociology of the law that should be required reading for anyone involved in the current debates about regulating renting (or indeed regulating anything). The book is subtitled ‘a study of landlords, law and crime’ and it tells the story of the response to Rachmanism, first by the politicians with legislation, then by landlords with evasion and then by local authorities and the courts with implementation and enforcement.

Read the rest of this entry »


Making the move

Forced out of area moves are on the increase and they are not just happening in London.

The Oxford Times reports this week on cases of people being offered homes as far away in Cardiff, Cheltenham and Birmingham. The council blames the cuts in housing benefit and the benefit cap that make it impossible to find affordable private rented accommodation but a local solicitor has accused it of dumping people outside the area.

Elysha Britnell, a 22 year old mother of two children, was told she would have to move out of her temporary accommodation in Oxford and accept a home in Birmingham. She says she has no family and friends outside Oxford and has never lived anywhere else and is appealing against the decision:

‘I’m Oxford born and bred. If this appeal fails I’ll be completely homeless. I have got nowhere else to go. Even if I go to Birmingham, I may as well be homeless, because I have nobody there.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


10 things about 2013: part 1

The first of a two-part look back about the issues and people that I’ve been blogging about this year.

1) The year of the bedroom tax

Thinking back to the beginning of January it was obvious that the under-occupation penalty would be a huge issue for housing in 2013. What soon became clear was that it would go mainstream in the national media and parliament too. The closer we got to implementation in April, the more scrutiny it received, and the more that happened the clearer the unfairness and the contradictions at the heart of the policy came into focus. All the attention seemed at first to take the government by surprise too. It wasn’t until February that Grant Shapps came up with the government’s preferred term: the spare room subsidy. That prompted me to blog about the battle of language on the issue and in the wider debate about welfare/social security.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


First for Wales

Legislation introduced today marks a historic moment for housing in Wales but it has wider significance for the rest of the UK too.

It makes history by becoming Wales’s first Housing Bill since it acquired greater devolved powers. The Housing (Wales) Bill aims to ‘ensure that everyone in Wales is able to access a decent home’ (though ministers behind all Housing Bills everywhere say that). The details are what count and the timing and the context are what create the wider significance. As Carl Sargeant, the Welsh minister for housing and regeneration, puts it: ‘Despite the impact of austerity measures and budget decisions taken by the UK Government, the Welsh Government is determined to improve the supply, quality and standards of housing and the proposals in this Housing Bill are crucial in achieving this.’

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


Make a wish

If ministers thought the furore over the bedroom tax would die down once it was introduced in April, they were sadly mistaken. What they insist on calling the removal of the spare room subsidy has now been in operation for over 200 days and, if anything, the controversy is still growing.

What began as a harsh but arcane cut in housing benefit – the under-occupation penalty or social sector size criteria – has instead forced its way into the public consciousness. As James Green, external affairs manager of the National Housing Federation, explains: ‘When we started our work on the Welfare Reform Bill it seemed like it would be impossible to make it mainstream or get any traction. Now you can go into any pub in the country and say ‘bedroom tax’ and people know what you’re talking about.’

At a political level, it’s become a symbol of the unfairness of the government’s welfare reforms. At the Lib Dem conference, nobody from the party leadership defended one of their own government’s policies. At the Labour conference, Ed Miliband shook off his party’s caution on welfare to pledge that he would repeal it. At the SNP conference, Alex Salmond used the imposition of the bedroom tax from Westminster as a key part of his appeal to the Scottish people to vote for independence. Anecdotal evidence suggests that some Conservative backbenchers are becoming uncomfortable about the policy as they realise its full implications.

Read the rest of my feature on the human, political and  legal implications of the bedroom tax at 24 Housing


Seeing the cracks

Whether it’s the UN, the Lib Dem conference or tribunals in Fife, the cracks in the bedroom ceiling are growing by the day.

As Pete Apps reports for Inside Housing, only two members of the junior coalition party voted against a grassroots motion at the conference in Glasgow yesterday calling for an immediate evaluation of the controversial policy.

The motion condemned the policy that Lib Dem MPs were instructed to call the ‘spare room subsidy’ for ‘discriminating against the most vulnerable in society’.  Richard Kemp, former leader of Liverpool Council, called it ‘reprehensible and evil’ and Baroness Shirley Williams, probably the party’s senior figure, called it a ‘big mistake’.

Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


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